Our headlines-fears of alien terrorists, NY out of control, happen in The Anarchist's Girlfriend, yet the "day is saved" by an unlikely heroine in a real world strange to us today. She is transformed from innocence to action.
Introduction to THE ANARCHIST'S GIRLFRIEND, Excerpted in debut issue of The Portable Lower East Side. 1984.
Somewhere along the Bowery, in a basement, a red-haired Irishman wears his eternal black suit. Somewhere in Chelsea, a Russian defector has a twin brother. Somewhere in midtown Manhattan, a switchboard operator is going on her night shift. She carries a little video cam. She doesn't know what it is filming. She assumes it will collage to a logical sequence of related images that will have meaning by juxtaposition. She doesn't know if this is so, but it doesn't matter; not to this girl who lived for American rock ’n’ roll blaring incongruously over a Greek coastal town. She doesn't matter, to anyone in that isolated fishing village she left at 17.
The Irishman works without a green card in a health foods restaurant. He likes beansprouts, nuts, and most goat cheeses. He also silkscreens posters in his basement at night. His long, white fingers are smudged with raw, red ink. The poster glows, DO YOU WANT TO KILL YOUR BOSS? It’s very prettily designed, it's graphically appealing. It ends with a handshake.
The Anarchist examines the new poster, frowning at the quality. His silkscreen is fraying. He thinks of a specialist who prints with an expensive offset lithograph machine, realizing there's a certain quality of poster you need in New York to be noticed. The specialist, who amuses the Anarchist, is fascinated by the “Spy vs. Spy” comic of the raincoated anarchist. His favorite episode is when the spy attempts to throw a bomb sticky with adhesive, ending up a very charred cartoon man. Once he embarrassed himself, by expecting the Anarchist to agree to the cartoon's subversive nature. "I mean, it's anarchistic, even if the magazine still makes money on it.”
The redhead laughed, "Anachronistic, you mean.”
THE ANARCHIST’S GIRLFRIEND
The Anarchist's Girlfriend is from Brooklyn. She's apolitical. She works as a Go-Go Dancer for sixty dollars a night. She sews unusual ideas of what people could wear, might wear, perhaps will wear, in the next century at least. She can combine textures, styles, and periods to come up with any particular feeling in a short while. This is how she “positions” her creations. The Anarchist disapproves, since he is very careful how and where he positions his posters.
"One must have the largest audience possible!” he often admonishes her, "Who will buy these?"
She always answers with conviction, ''Museums of the Future. Underneath a holographic fashion cube a small latex placard will say, ANONYMOUS DESIGNER, 1980, DATE APPROXIMATE WITH TEUTONIUM 90.”
The Anarchist's Girlfriend has short blonde hair cut like Kim Novak and a ski slope nose under the largest, softest, otherworldly eyes. Though her heart is strong, she has very thin shoulders, and delicate highly-tuned nerves. Luckily, she is blessed with second sight. When the men hoot at her Go-Go Act, she excuses their ignorance. In her mind's eye, she is wearing a demure black dress.
In accordance with her futuristic visions, she dropped her name several years ago. She told her friends, “Oh, I don't have to carry it on; several others are listed the same way.” To tell the truth, she believed there would be no such designation in the future. Presently, she preferred the privacy of being known by how people referred to her. Since they often identified her by boyfriends, she became the AG, the Anarchist’s Girlfriend. She doesn't mind the abbreviation as she treasures her friends who entrust her with all their tragedies.
Chapter 1 Excerpt, Sandy Before the Boards.
“Dust is used to test the circuitry in missiles. If a microdot is present in any electrical component, it could misfire to the wrong continent. But it could never happen.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
(Part of a conversation between "Mr.Dio" and Sandy an answering service operator in THE ANARCHIST'S GIRLFRIEND. In reality, he was an exec, who confessed to an office temp.)
This is a fiction based on fact. While the events in the novel are mostly fiction, many of the characters are based on real people. And there are conversations, like this one that actually happened. Interview has more info about this novel.
Today’s author interview is with Susan Weinstein, whose underground classic, THE ANARCHIST’S GIRLFRIEND is being released in a definitive new edition from Pelekinesis. The wacky novel combines themes of terrorism, metaphysics and conspiracies and I gobbled it up.
Here is some background on Susan:
Susan I. Weinstein is a writer, playwright, and painter—and a graduate of Temple University's Tyler School of Art. She is married and lives in NYC. Susan has made her living publicizing books on arts, social and political issues, among other topics, for mainstream, small and university presses. Her review blog is
SARETT: I love writers who use comedy to address darker issues of identity and meaning -- and you do this remarkably well in The Anarchist’s Girlfriend. What’s the biggest challenge in keeping it funny?
Weinstein: Keeping a perspective and not getting lost in the dark. I think humor is perspective. There’s a Moliere quote that’s stuck in my mind. It’s something like, if you look at life with your heart it’s a tragedy. If you look at it with your mind, it’s a comedy.
SARETT: Are there any writing rules that you secretly enjoy breaking?
Weinstein: Believability and likeability. I don’t think there’s a good writer who has those in mind or is sure what they mean, when they get down to work. Write what you know is another shibboleth. A person may understand what it’s like to live on Mars, without knowing how they know that. I think Ursula LeGuin has debunked quite a few rules.
SARETT: You’ve mentioned that Dostoyevsky's The Idiot prompted your invention of the other-worldly Anarchist’s Girlfriend. As I read, many of these characters seemed like people I’d met in downtown Manhattan. What was the mix of real vs. invented?
Weinstein: I lived in a Bowery loft down the street from Nan Goldin. One of her roommates, Jan, drew incredible comic strips and made clothes of the future. An Irish Anarchist silkscreened peace posters in a basement down the street. Mr. Dio was real, as was the Arizona Dust. I met him on a temp job. (He called me into his office to confess his fears that the dust used to store missiles would misfire.) The Llama is a composite with a good deal of Werner Erhard. Wes Mavine is based on an artist/businessman, whom I threw a broom at, after he fired me.
As for Sandy: I worked as a switchboard operator. My clients did include a church suicide prevention center, a prostitution ring, a dog grooming place. I once was crossing the street when a van stopped and the driver fell out in an epileptic fit. I directed traffic, as did the Anarchist's Girlfriend.
SARETT: You poke holes though pseudo-spiritualism, yet there's no doubt that the Anarchist's Girlfriend has psychic ability. Do you believe in such powers or is this a literary conceit?
Weinstein: Both. I believe some people have abilities we call psychic. I think they are often stronger in childhood and diminish. I think these abilities are based on science we don’t understand. The Maimonides Dream Institute in the late 1960’s proved the existence of dream telepathy—these experiments were published by Penguin. I read it because I experienced this as an adolescent. I dreamed a series of pop songs, before they came out!
SARETT: The wacky humor, and inventive plotting of the novel reminded me of Thomas Pynchon. Were you a fan of his? Other stylistic muses?
Weinstein: I read some Pynchon but I read all of John Dos Passos's USA Trilogy. The character, The Anarchist's Girlfriend, is a kind of blond descendent of Nana and Sister Carrie, though her soul's akin to Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. I like Bret Harte's Western humor in relating tragic events. Then there is science fiction: Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint and Theodore Sturgeon's IT.
SARETT: The novel is set in the New York of the early eighties, and yet it seems remarkably pertinent to our current obsessions with terrorism. If you were setting today, what changes (aside from sky high rents), would you envision for the story?
Weinstein: The New York of 2016 is far less idiosyncratic, more collective, hive-like than before. Today, every terrorist act seems calculated-- most are players with a larger cultural agenda. Now I might show how cell phones and social media affect thinking. For instance, a desperate personal act like the Anarchist’s, would not be attempted in his insular way with no intention of hurting anyone. Similarly, Sandy’s operation would be a different grandiose project. She might be a career oriented performance artist—and the outcome of her operation would be subverted by her "contacts." The Anarchist's Girlfriend might be a fashion muse, the Anarchist, a designer of brand logos, Wayne a news blogger.
SARETT: Your characters have such detailed, rich lives—it must have been difficult to let them go. Do you ever wonder about their fates? Did you contemplate a sequel?
Weinstein: I am attached to these characters. But they occupy a specific time and place. The Anarchist's Girlfriend's passage is from innocence to maturity. And all the characters experience a crucial passage. The ending shows the shape of some futures--Wayne's, the AG, The Anarchist, The Llama and Sandy. I can imagine them waking up in our time in the altered roles I described but no sequel.
SARETT: This novel has an interesting publishing history--colorful in itself. Tell us a little about its evolution. Is the new version revised?
Weinstein: I read and performed chapters of this novel in art bars/clubs and at marathon benefits for zines. It evolved slowly over several years. The introduction appeared in the 1984 debut issue of "The Portable Lower East Side," now in NYU’s collection. The evolving MS attracted the notice of several notable editors, but was never picked up. Years later, I gave an editor my ONLY copy (by then on unplayable diskettes.) She loved it, but not for her press. Worse yet, she had trashed it (assuming no one was idiotic enough to send an original.) I got the box before the trash was picked up! 2000's, Eat Your Serial Press published it, but it was not a "professional" launch.
Now, finally, the book is getting a proper release with a small, literary press. The Pelekinesis book is a new edition—edited, with a new preface and visuals.
SARETT: I’m always seeking new (or forgotten) writers. Any books that you’d like recommend to our blog readers?
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Writing Across the Landscape
Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka selected and translated by Peter Wortsman
Edith Nesbit: her books inspired Lewis' Narnia series and The Wizard of Oz books. Her fantasy is wise about innocence. The Story of The Story of the Amulet, 5 Children and IT, The Magic City
SARETT: What’s up next? Any projects in the works?
Weinstein: I am finishing new material for the 2017 New Editions: Paradise Gardens, which takes place in 2050 on the Earth's surface and 3011 underground; and Tales of The Mer Family Onyx: Mermaid Stories on Land and Under the Sea. I have a new novel based on blacked-out v-mail-- plus a play to finish and marketing of another, "The Wapshot Whatever."
Learn more about Susan:
ORDER from Pelekenesis here
Good Reads! The Anarchist's Girlfriend New Edition, debut 12/11
THE ANARCHIST'S GIRLFRIEND NYC late 1970s to early 1980s
She walked this Bowery. The loft she shared was on the other side of the truck.
In book there's an episode with a Mayflower Van that happened at that 4th st.
and Bowery intersection. Further down the street...
Here's a Paul the Book Interview, about life vs. fictional life in the Anarchist's Girlfriend and Pelekinesis Press talking small press and New Edition. Amazon is still offering the Serial version at dirt cheap prices, but the New Edition is simply much better. It's not just a reprint. So if you have interest. Below is the podcast. And thanks.
PARADISE GARDENS NEW EDITION, SPRING 2017!
PARADISE GARDENS NEW EDITION, SPRING 2017!
QUOTES ABOUT PARADISE GARDENS
One of the most disturbing yet oddly funny science fiction/dystopian sagas I've ever read. When corporations have wrung every drop out of nature and mankind has no other option but to build entire communities underground, how do you spin it to make it seem like a dream destination? You call it Paradise Gardens of course and you sell it like everything else. When we have no natural water, no natural food, and even the wind and the sunlight has been poisoned you will still have hucksters selling whatever is left for top of the line prices. A thought provoking story well conceived and brilliantly executed.--Patrick King, author of the Shane Collaine Series
"From the infinitely imaginative mind of Susan Weinstein, PARADISE GARDENS spins a fabulous web. Clever, funny, serious, and prescient, this novel takes us on a breathtaking journey. Lovers of Aldous Huxley's and Margaret Atwood's dystopias are in for a satisfying treat."
Sonia Taitz, award-winning author of The Watchmaker's Daughter and Great With Child."
Preface to Paradise Gardens New Edition
It was the age of Reagan, 1980s, when I began Paradise Gardens. I had just read a book on how capitalism evolved from feudalism and was living in "Morning in America." I began to imagine capitalism devolving into a modern corporatized feudalism, as a conservative ideal of America. Originally entitled Inside the U.R.S. (The United Religious System), the novel was written as a cautionary tale, since this was a time of ascendancy for far-right religious groups. Some were believers in the rapture, the apocalypse and rise to heaven of the faithful--after the 4 horsemen did their work. It seemed those in power were doing all they could to accelerate the end times.
Whether messianic or fiscal ideals, they manifested in actions, such as closing mental hospitals and having patients on the streets with no treatment. A vague plan for patients being integrated into "the community" never occurred. Benefiting corporations, stockholders and generally wealthy individuals was the higher objective. They had risen, because they were superior beings. It was a point of government to serve the elite doing the deity's work. Ayn Rand was again in vogue, along with a social Darwinism.
This attitude trickled down, not any financial benefit to average people, from huge tax breaks and unfettered business. I remember a casual conversation at a bar with a Wall Street investment banker. He told me, quite earnestly, that I should leave my rent-controlled apartment. I was preventing the real estate from achieving its market destiny. I was impeding the greater good of business. So before 1984, in this environment (an ethos culminating in 1987's "Greed is Good" in Wall Street), I began to dream Paradise Gardens.
The novel began with an image of a young woman in a corporate office, who was a model employee. In that time, I worked temp jobs in corporations and had a publishing job in the devilishly numbered 666 Fifth Ave building, which had a lush red carpet. I also was a publicist for Bluejay Books, which focused on science fiction classics in beautiful hard covers. I was a literary person, who had an interest in utopias, from Thomas More's to America's Utopian experiments, from the Shakers to communes in the 1960s. Writing press kits and talking to people like Harlan Ellison, Vernor Vinge (whose True Names anticipated the Internet), and most of all Theodore Sturgeon, widened my idea of classics.
Sturgeon, who started out wanting to be a fiction writer for The New Yorker, fairly invented in the '50s the genre of something weird in the suburbs. Spielberg once acknowledged that if he hadn't read Sturgeon in his youth, he would not have made his suburban movies (his E.T. is a direct cousin of Sturgeon's story, "It!") Sturgeon also inspired Vonnegut's janitor Kilgore Trout (one of his various roles in Vonnegut novels). Science fiction could be literary and down to earth. I read Philip K. Dick and remember how Time Out of Joint blasted the complacency of day-to-day life. I could see the direct line from Kafka's Penal Colony to Dick's Man in the High Castle.
But my roots are in social realists, Zola and the Americans, Dreiser, Dos Passos, and Sinclair Lewis. Lewis' It Can't Happen Here is a cautionary tale about fascism, through America's Jaycees and Lions Clubs. Patriotism is flacked by a president, an Ad Man selling America a bill of goods. It was written in the thirties and I considered it a period piece, though a very plausible one. Paradise Gardens has an edge of satire and Dick's wide-ranging freedom of invention. This story grew, was improvised, cut back and redrafted for about ten years.
Paradise Gardens is a dark book. It begins when the Earth's surface is too polluted to support human life. In the wake of the dissolution of the Old Federal government, corporations flee underground to the ultimate real estate project Paradise Gardens. I have been haunted by what occurs, because it is lived by characters who became real to me. And as the story was always present, in the back of my mind, I dreamed segments, as well as imagined them awake. The characters evolved their world in my consciousness. Before it was serialized, I found I had to update things that had already occurred in my book, before they happened in reality. The World Trade Center is partially destroyed, the Information Pirates, their billboards and missions to preserve facts, operated before there was an Internet. Some things had to be updated for our time.
Now we find ourselves at what to the apocalyptic seems the beginning of the end of our democracy, with a president-elect who has sold angry voters what appears to be another bill of dubious goods. To the more pragmatic, this presidency just means four years of a regressive agenda--yet it's crucial for the international climate crisis, which can't be undone. Like all dystopians, I hope that reality does not continue to merge with my fiction.
If a cautionary tale has a function, it raises consciousness of what can happen--to ward it off. This novel may be the equivalent of shamanic practices, where a tribe wards off a disaster by transferring negative energy to an object. Some also use earth to cleanse negative energy, water or fire to change its nature. Knowledge for any society is the best protection. And in our time, perhaps negative visualization has a function. This novel can purge our fear, allow a passage for changing dark "unthinkable" visualization to a positive future. Paradise Gardens is a passage and at the end, there is unity--of people, place, and nature.
FOR A RECORDED 80 SECOND AUTHOR READING of PARADISE GARDENS here.